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Something Was There - Asham Award anthology launch

26 September 2011 in Short Stories | Comments (0)

This past weekend I was down at Charleston for Small Wonder, the short story festival.  I was there to mark the launch of Something Was There, the Asham Award anthology that I edit.  The Asham Award is a biannual short story competition for women writers; the anthology publishes the best twelve stories alongside four commissioned stories from established writers.  This year three of the established writers were also attending Small Wonder - Naomi Alderman, Polly Samson, and Kate Clanchy. Naomi is a friend, Polly Samson I knew years ago when she worked at Cape and I was first published, and Kate I’d never met before.  Several other writers I know were doing events - Alison MacLeod and Geoff Dyer and actor/writer Sylvestra La Touzel.  So the day was great fun.

Charleston is one of my favourite spots in England; it’s an old house in the Sussex Downs, once home to Bloomsburyites Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.  It’s an entirely atmospheric house, with the artists’ hand-painted walls and furniture throughout.  There’s a lovely garden too, and when the house is hosting a festival, the visiting writers get to hang out in the kitchen of the house, where we are fed delicious lunches and teas, and allowed to use the loo that Virginia Woolf herself, Vanessa Bell’s sister, would have used. 

I have a rather odd history with the house.  When I first came to live in London when I was twenty, I was lucky enough to find myself living in a large squatted house smack in the centre of town, beside Charing Cross train station.  The other occupants of the house included a number of artists and writers, including a woman called Fanny Garnett.  Fanny was in the process of moving to France; when she left London, she gave me her bike.  But before she left, Fanny took me, along with my friend Marilee Sigal who was visiting me, down to the English countryside to see her mother.

I was completely ignorant of most things English, let alone things Bloomsbury, at that time; in fact, I found almost everything in my new London life surprising and baffling.  So when Fanny’s mother - Angelica (daughter of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell) - turned out to be living in a decrepit though extraordinary house set deep among the hills of the Sussex Downs, I thought nothing of it:  everything was extraordinary to me, so a visit to a house where the walls were decoratively hand-painted was just part of the strange new world I was inhabiting.  Marilee and I slept on the floor in the studio - the house had fleas, and damp, and there were holes in the floor, but it was extremely beautiful and like nothing I had ever seen before.  Angelica was in the process of moving out - but I didn’t know this - and handing the house over to the Trust that runs it now.  But no one referred to the house as ‘Charleston’ at that time. 

So when I was first invited to the Charleston Festival some years later, I had no idea that this was the same house that I had visited with Fanny and Marilee.  I attended the festival with a profound sense of deja vu, and then it took me a bit of time to figure out that Fanny’s mother’s house, and Charleston, were one in the same.  When I was at Charleston, again for Small Wonder, four years ago, I told the curator of the house, Wendy, my story about having slept on the floor in the studio.  It so happened that Marilee was coming to visit me that November, and Wendy invited me to bring Marilee to the house then, despite the fact that it closes to the public at the end of October.  We had the most fabulous visit on that occasion, tramping around the house with Wendy’s expert guidance, tracing our memories of our visit with Fanny onto the lay-out of the house now that it has become a museum. 

So now when I go to Charleston I feel that, in some tiny way, the house is mine in a way that no other museum could possibly be.  Something was there - indeed, we were.

A Curious Dream - proof-reading ms

16 September 2011 in A Curious Dream | Comments (0)

These days I’m proof-reading the manuscript of A Curious Dream.  Re-reading these stories is such an odd experience.  While the collection has ten new stories in it, it also contains selected stories from my two previous collections, My Life as a Girl in a Men’s Prison, and Tiny Lies.  I wrote these stories years ago, in fact, between fifteen and twenty-plus years ago, so re-reading them is like visiting a past version of myself.  Disconcerting, discombobulating… both those things.

I like these stories - I wouldn’t think it was worth re-publishing them alongside the newer stories if I didn’t.  And they have a broad range of subject matter as well - from a story told by the wife of a murderer, to a story about a young man who keeps getting his girlfriends pregnant, to a contemporary vampire story.  This is good.  There’s lots of sex, which somehow surprises me - I think sex is one of the things I’ve found it harder to write about as I get older.  Maybe it’s to do with having young kids and suddenly thinking, eww, what if THEY read these stories, which seems much worse than the prospect of being read by my parents.  I used to worry about what my mother would think, but I never worried enough for it to stop me from writing exactly what I wanted to write.  And now, with my own kids as potential future readers - hmm.  Much tougher somehow.

And so on I go, proofing, cringing, laughing, and sighing.  Red pen and post-its and fed-ex.  A totally analogue experience.  There’s a lot of pages here.  Twenty-five years worth of writing short stories.

A Curious Dream:  Collected Works

15 September 2011 in A Curious Dream | Comments (0)

I have a new book coming out in Canada in October - A Curious Dream:  Collected Works.  This is a selection of previously published short stories alongside a dozen new stories, including two pieces of what I think of as near-memoir and a section on digital stories.

It’s been interesting putting the book together, revisiting my collections Tiny Lies, from 1988, the first book I ever published, and My Life as a Girl in a Men’s Prison, published in 1997.  Both books contain stories that seem like relics from ancient times - cassette tapes! going around to someone’s house because they don’t have a phone! - opening a weird window to my own past history as a writer.  The new stories include a series of linked stories all about the same character.  The collection is big, nearly 500 pages.  I do love the short story as a form, and it’s been great to have this chance to publish new work alongside older stories. 

You can buy the book in Canada from booksellers as well as online.

Melbourne on my mind

1 September 2011 in Future of Publishing | Comments (0)

Here I am in Melbourne where it is rather grey and chilly - I know it’s winter here in the southern hemisphere, but still, after all my years of hearing about Australian sunshine, you’d think the sun would deign to come out once or twice while I’m here.  Instead I’ve resorted to buying red tights and a brightly coloured necklace.  However, as I look over my shoulder now I can see that, in fact, the sun has come out today, so I’ll keep this short and then run outside to play.

I’m here for the Melbourne Writer’s Festival.  I’ll be doing two events; the first takes place tomorrow and is a collaboration with if:book australia, the good folks who invited me over.  I haven’t met any of them yet, though of course I ‘know’ Kate Eltham and Simon Groth online, and we’ll be meeting up tonight for the first time.  Tomorrow we’ll be running BookCamp Australia, a day-long unconference on the subject(s) of what next for reading and writing.  I’m looking forward to a day of discussion and questions and talk, talk, talk, something that digital book people are always good at. 

On Saturday we’ll be doing a panel, ‘The Connected Book’.  At both events there’ll be people I’ve met online already, including a few educators who work with ‘Inanimate Alice’, so it will be great to put faces to names. 

It’s been great having a few days in Melbourne which strikes me as a fantastically liveable city, full of great bars and cafes and gardens and beaches and cool little shops and art and a multitude of peoples from all over the world - everything a city needs, in fact.